The Ministry Of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Government of India put forward a draft- Environmental Impact Assessment Notification, dated March 23, 2020 (“Draft EIA Notification”) earlier this year on April 11,2020. The Draft EIA Notification purpose is to replace the previous notification implemented since September 14, 2006.
An EIA study’s purpose is to identify, assess the economic, environmental and social impact of a planned project or activity (such as mine, dam, industrial unit etc .). It’s main purpose is to predict the impact of the project on the environment so the decisions can be taken accordingly to minimize any harmful impact on environment.
On August 11, the public feedback deadline on the draft ended. According to reports the environment ministry has received 17 lakh comments from the public. This partly was possible due to the success of environment and civil society groups in raising awareness about the arguable changes in environmental law that the EIA Draft proposes. The most controversial of these is the proposal for post facto clearance of projects that have been in operation against the Environment Protection Act (EPA).
On August 13, the Supreme Court rejected the petition of central government, challenging a Delhi High Court order to print the draft EIA notification 2020 in 22 languages. Post Facto is not a new practice. Post Facto has been made a De Facto practice by our legislature, government and the courts for many years. The main idea of Post Facto is that if a person invests a huge sum of money in an illegal activity – construction of a mall, mines, industries, there is a assumption that the investments made were bona fide.
According to the government taking penal action would cause hurdles in the ease of doing business. The courts justify such illegal acts by saying that there is a need to balance the environment with development. The draft EIA notification has three main objectives : first, most ecologically destructive projects do not require EIA; second, creating exceptions for EIAs; third, to ensure that the projects that require EIAs are not scrutinized by public or experts.
Due to Covid-19 pandemic certain amendments have been made to the 2006 notification. Under India’s international law obligations any such environment protection rules are required to meet to meet the requirement precautionary principle to avoid harm. The proposed draft may not adress these concerns unless amended.
The issue of EIA is no longer a domain of environmental groups. It has become an issue of free speech. The backlash of government has helped unite diverse social groups.